Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Grandmother's Ravioli: Not Your Average Food Show


I've been meaning to write about food-related TV programs since I started this blog, but here we are, more than a year after I started the thing, and still nothing on that front.

Until now.  I'm happy to say that I was inspired to finally write about a TV show because I found one--new to me, though now in its second season--that I've truly fallen for: My Grandmother's Ravioli, hosted by Mo Rocca, currently airing both new episodes and reruns on Wednesday nights on the Cooking Channel.

I knew Rocca from his Daily Show days and his appearances on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, which seems a bit of an unusual path to food TV.  Nevertheless, he slides seamlessly into this role.

My Grandmother's Ravioli is a show that's full of both humor and heart.  The premise is that Rocca "learns to cook and discover[s] treasured family recipes and stories from grandparents in their kitchens across the country."  This certainly is a different concept than what we see across the Food Network and Cooking Channel's typical programming (they're both Scripps-owned and share shows and talent), which is an initial plus.  It doesn't feature some loud-mouth host pigging out in restaurants, there isn't some creepy and seemingly fake "stake-out" going on, and nobody is competing with anyone else.

It's just Rocca and a rotating cast of elderly folks who, from what I've seen so far, are sharp, sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Maybe there's a part of me that loves this show because watching it often reminds me of my own grandmother, back in California, who I don't see nearly often enough.  But I don't think that's a requirement for enjoying My Grandmother's Ravioli.  Here are a couple other reasons to like it:

The Ladies

Nothing I can write could really do them justice.  Here's a clip from the "Mary Gray and the Golden Gals" episode to help the cause:


What can you say?  The ladies are legitimately funny.  Sometimes they're funny with Mo, or because of the ways in which he prompts them.  Sometimes it's just natural.  And never do I get the sense that we're meant to be laughing at them on this show--we're laughing right along with them.  You can tell that they're having a good time, and they seem truly charmed by the engaging host.

They also have some incredible stories to tell--some joyous, some heartbreaking.  But they're all fascinating.  Here's an interview with Rocca on CBS This Morning (that's been taken down) something called OK! TV in which he lays out why it's so great working with these ladies:


I also want to add that older folks are woefully underrepresented on TV these days, in any form.  I'll still watch Golden Girls reruns from time to time, but it's a rare sight on a contemporary TV show when the elderly are given serious and legitimate representation.  I get that there are ratings and advertising dollars at stake here, but when, since The Golden Girls, have older individuals actually been the focus of a show?  My Grandmother's Ravioli wonderfully illustrates much of what we've all been missing.

Mo as Host

I've seen it before on some food TV shows: the host travels around the country and features "ordinary people," but talks down to them, as if they're little children.  I thought Alton Brown was guilty of this, for example, in many cases on his Feasting On Asphalt show, particularly in the second season, during which he traveled along the Mississippi River through some poor and rural parts of the South.

Knowing that a lot of people--not just TV hosts--often treat older folks that way, I was initially concerned that we might see some of that on My Grandmother's Ravioli.  That's not the case, though.  Rocca jokes with them, talks with them as if they're intelligent adults, never condescends, and, if anything, shows great reverence for who they are and what they can do in their kitchens.  Here's an outtake from the Doris Spacer episode from earlier in this second season:


You can see clearly that he's there to have a fun time and let his guest's cooking shine, while at the same time balancing some serious material.  In last week's episode, for example, Rocca discussed issues of race with his guest Miyoko, a native of Japan who showed strength as a single mother raising biracial children in America.

Meanwhile, the silly hijinks Rocca plays, like jokingly answering Doris's phone, are really well integrated with the cooking portions of the show and the segments where the guests tell their stories.

Truth be told, it's the humor that won me over--sometimes silly or clever, sometimes surprisingly inappropriate.  It's what helped me remember to watch the show a week after my first glimpse, and now has me setting the DVR so I can be sure to catch all new and old episodes.  For anyone who gets the Cooking Channel, this is highly-recommended viewing, a truly unexpected and hidden gem.

My Grandmother's Ravioli airs at 8 and 8:30 p.m. ET (and is replayed four hours later) on the Cooking Channel 

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